Surgery Improves Late-Stage Breast Cancer
Study Shows Patients Live Longer After Surgery Even If Breast Cancer Is Diagnosed Late
Sept. 22, 2009 (Berlin) -- Women whose breast cancer is diagnosed late, when
it has already spread to other parts of the body, live about a year and a half
longer if their breast tumor is surgically removed, researchers report.
The main treatment for most breast cancers is surgery to remove either the
affected part of the breast or the entire breast. But if the cancer has spread,
surgery is typically offered only if the breast tumor is causing pain or other
symptoms, says Jetske Ruiterkamp, MD, a surgical resident at Jeroen Bosch
Hospital in Den Bosch, Netherlands.
To find out if surgery would improve their survival, the researchers
reviewed the medical records of 728 women whose breast cancer was diagnosed at
a late stage. Forty percent of them had surgery to remove the main breast
The median survival was 31 months in women who had surgery, compared with
only 14 months for women who did not. Looked at another way, 24.5% of those who
had surgery were still alive five years later vs. 13.1% of those who did
Even after taking into account age, period of diagnosis, the number of sites
the disease had spread to, and different types of treatment, surgery reduced
the risk of death by roughly 40%, Ruiterkamp says.
The results were presented at the joint meeting of the European Cancer
Organization and the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO).
Up to 10% of women with breast cancer are diagnosed at a later stage, when
the cancer has already spread, Ruiterkamp tells WebMD. The study's findings, if
confirmed, could lead to major changes in their treatment, she says.
In the meantime, such women might want to discuss surgery with their
doctors, Ruiterkamp says.
ESMO President Jose Baselga, MD, chairman of the medical oncology service at
the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, says that there are
now a number of studies suggesting the surgery can extend survival of
late-stage breast cancer patients.
Baselga tells WebMD that he believes that the surgery attacks the tumor's
"The primary tumor is like a reservoir for self-seeding cancer stem cells"
that fuel the cancer's growth and spread, Baselga explains.
Excising the tumor reduces the number of circulating tumor cells throughout
the body, he says.
Ruiterkamp agrees, adding that it is also possible that surgery reactivates
the immune system to attack the cancer.